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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
News article17 February 2020Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations

Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the International Donors' Conference 'Together for Albania'

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"Check against delivery"

President Michel,

President Đukanović,

Prime Minister Rama,

Prime Minister Plenković,

Prime Minister Brnabić,

Prime Minister Spasovski,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Thank you very much for joining us today in such an impressive number. I wish you could stand here and have a look at this room. Last November, the earth shook in the dead of night, when everyone in Albania was fast asleep.

51 people lost their lives. Two entire families of eight perished when their houses collapsed. We have all heard their stories, with a heavy heart: A young couple who was about to get married. A mother who died trying to protect her daughter. Tens of families opened their homes to the homeless.

When dawn arrived, a whole country was in mourning. And a whole country mobilised – to rescue, to heal, to give shelter to those who had lost everything.

Hundreds of Albanians volunteered, working day and night in the dust. Many more donated clothes or money. This is a story of loss, but it is also a story of heroes. It is a story of solidarity, among Albanians and among fellow Europeans.

In a matter of hours after the earthquake, the first rescue teams from other European countries started to arrive in Albania. 200 Italian, Greek, Romanian firefighters – digging in the rubble to search for survivors. We immediately activated the European Union's Civil Protection Mechanism. And in the following days, our experts and engineers arrived in Albania to coordinate the operations and assess the damage.

The whole European Union mobilised for a country that is at the heart of our continent – and that I hope and I am convinced one day will also be part of our Union. The people of Albania know that they belong in our European family – now more than ever.

Solidarity has not come only from the European Union. Today's impressive attendance testifies the international community's strong response to Albania's call.

The whole world has mobilised in your support. From Montenegro to Canada, from Turkey to Israel, from Switzerland to the United States. We have seen Serbian and Kosovar rescue teams working together for their Albanian neighbours. We have seen that, beyond any political divide, the Western Balkans have united in solidarity. And solidarity can save lives. In fact, solidarity has saved so many lives in Albania.

The day after the quake, the rescue teams pulled 49 people from the rubble. Another entire family was found under the ruins of their house – covered with a thick layer of dust, but still alive. And this was thanks to our collective mobilisation.

But when the dust settled, the international mobilisation did not stop. Tents, clothes and food continued to arrive. After three dramatic months, most of the people who were left stranded have already gone back to their homes or found a new accommodation.

Yet Albania's needs are still massive, and must be tackled with urgency.

Thousands of private homes must be rebuilt. Schools and hospitals need restoration, so that they can once again host pupils and patients. Businesses have been destroyed and new jobs must be created.

The cost of the reconstruction is estimated around EUR 1 billion. And it is clear that Albania alone cannot shoulder this burden. This is what brings us here today. Today we make a promise to the Albanian people.

We promise that we are in for the long run. We promise that our solidarity will continue to be as strong as it was in the first hours after the earthquake. We pledge a sustained wave of investment for the reconstruction.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

No one can fill the void left by those who lost their lives. Yet together we can help Albania start over again.

Together we can build schools and hospitals that meet the highest standards of seismic safety. Together we can reinforce Albania's civil protection capability. Together we can make your country stronger than it was before the quake.

This conference marks the beginning – a beginning of our cooperation for Albania's reconstruction. In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to work together. We will make sure that the pledges are delivered fully and on time. And we will make sure that our investment has the strongest impact on the ground – in full transparency and accountability.

But first of all, we must help meet the country's huge needs. The European institutions and Member States have put together a strong pledge. The European Commission alone is pledging EUR 100 million for Albania's reconstruction from the European Union's budget. That comes on top of the EUR 15 million I already announced in December. And it does not include contributions from our Member States.

I invite all of you to contribute, and to help Albania get back on its feet soon.

Dear friends,

Since Albania regained its freedom, its people have shown their immense potential to the rest of the world. The country consolidated its economy and its institutions after decades of dictatorship.

So many young Albanians got university degrees and prospered in their lives and careers. And after the quake, Albanians have shown that they are not just proud and talented people – yes, they are. But they have also shown that they have great hearts.

Today it is our time to show solidarity. Today we stand at the side of Albania in a moment of need.

Albania will rise from the ashes of this quake.

It will rise as a stronger and safer country, at the core of our European family.

I count on you all!

Thank you.

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